Aiden Wilson Tozer was born on April 21, 1897, and was an American Christian pastor, preacher, and author. A.W. Tozer wrote more than 40 books but, unfortunately, in this day and age, we often lose sight of the wisdom and teaching of those who came before. It is representative of the maxim “Newer is always better” that seems to dictate life in the 21st Century. This is simply not always the case and as Christians, there are many voices that are worth listening to if we want to grow into spiritually mature Christians.
Tozer is one among many of these voices and Moody Publishers Chicago has recently been publishing a series of books which boast “collected insights from A.W. Tozer” on topics such as culture, Jesus, worship, and the book that I just finished, prayer. These books provide a beautiful starting point for newcomers to Tozer’s writing and will serve to highlight just how important and valuable his teaching is, while also providing valuable instruction in how to grow and prioritise our prayer lives.
Prayer: Communing with God in Everything–Collected Insights from A. W. Tozer (available here) seems to be unique among the books published by Moody so far, as it is not simply an edited and curated collection of Tozer’s writings, but also includes additional material written by the book’s compiler, W.L. Seaver. The layout of the book is simple in that each chapter is short and is made up of three parts: An extended passage from Tozer’s writing or preaching on a particular aspect of prayer; an ‘Exploring With Tozer’ section written by Seaver which serves simply to expand upon what Tozer had written, and in some cases integrate more that Tozer has said on the particular topic; and a ‘Reflect and Apply’ section which provides several questions for the reader to meditate upon, and which would likely be a valuable addition to a small group or personal study time.
It is important to point out that Seaver does not prioritise his own opinion or ‘self’ in this book, but rather, first and foremost, allows Tozer’s words to teach and minister to the reader. Anything that Seaver adds simply allows the reader to dig a little deeper, and understand a little more, what Tozer was saying.
Several points are worth noting regarding Tozer himself and his teaching. In 1919, Tozer was called to pastor a small church in West Virginia — without any formal theological training. In fact, Tozer never attended seminary/bible college — he was, in the truest sense, self-taught. But maybe, more importantly, he was Spirit-taught. Nevertheless, in the Foreword to Lyle Dorsett’s biography of Tozer, A Passion for God, Robert E. Coleman, the Distinguished Professor of Evangelism and Discipleship at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, described Tozer as “One of the most influential and least recognized evangelical spokesmen of the twentieth century … No headliner in the popular media, no megachurch celebrity; his significance was in the spiritual depth of his biblical message.”
Reading Prayer: Communing with God in Everything you are able to see this dichotomy. Tozer doesn’t read like someone talking down to you — either intentionally or unwittingly — because he wrote as if he was walking alongside you. Yet the depth and insight of his words, the ability to convey deep truths in a way that speaks into the sole is unparalleled. He writes like someone talking or preaching — not in the sense that his prose lacks sophistication or is particularly verbose, but in the way that you can understand and hear what the Spirit wants you to hear. He is at once insightful and applicable.
Tozer had a particular gift of communication that is beautifully apparent in his writing (and in his sermon transcripts). More than beautiful prose, however, Tozer’s teaching on prayer stemmed from a life lived in prayerful communion with the Holy Spirit. Chapters range from speaking about “The Whole Life Must Pray”, “Prayer: No Substitute for Obedience”, “Dangers in Unanswered Prayer”, and “Does God Always Answer Prayer?” This last can quite comfortably be labelled as one of the best chapters of the book, for it rings eerily prescient for our current society. Too often people convince themselves that a lack of answer was simply God saying “No” when in actual fact God chose not to respond due to the pray-ers sin.
“The truth is that God always answers the prayer that accords with His will as revealed in the Scriptures, provided the one who prays is obedient and trustful. Further than this we dare not go.” (p.168)
Similarly, in a chapter entitled “What Profit in Prayer” Tozer is shown to explain the simplicity in prayer:
“According to the Bible, we have because we ask, or we have not because we ask not. It does not take much wisdom to discover our next move. Is it not to pray, and pray again and again till the answer comes? God waits to be invited to display His power in behalf of His people. The world situation is such that nothing less than God can straighten it out. Let us not fail the world and disappoint God by failing to pray.” (p.89)
Many of these words may have been written decades ago, but to imagine that they are somehow no longer relevant or have moved past their used-by-date is to exaggerate humanity’s “progress”. We have not come so far that the lessons learned last century are not just as important today. In many cases, the lessons Tozer warned about and taught addressed what were simply the opening salvos, the early days, the first stirrings of what has blossomed into full rebellion today. More than being as relevant today as yesterday, Tozer’s advice and admonitions on prayer serve to define a way of life that might mitigate Christian apathy today.